Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed a long-awaited fisheries rules package Saturday, as he and a host of Democratic Party leaders bid goodbye to state Rep. Denny Coffman at the Kona International Airport.
Coffman, who will leave the state House Friday midway through his third term, is moving to the mainland to be closer to his oldest daughter, who is fighting cancer.
Abercrombie said he wanted to sign the fisheries rules package, which has been worked on by Coffman and many others, at the aloha reception as a sign of admiration for Coffman. Praising Coffman, Abercrombie remarked to laughter from the crowd of about 75 that when he and Sen. Malama Solomon, a Waimea Democrat active in party politics, enter a room the temperature goes up.
“When Denny comes into the room the temperature goes down, because there’s an adult in the room,” Abercrombie said.
Coffman, seeming a bit overwhelmed as speaker after speaker heaped praise upon him, had his own rejoinder.
“I didn’t know the governor and I were such good friends,” Coffman said. “If I’d known that, I would have asked for a lot more money for West Hawaii.”
Abercrombie has had the fisheries rules package, worked on by many groups for the better part of a decade, awaiting his signature since mid-September. The rules will go into effect 10 days after being filed with Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui.
“There’s a variety of interests involved and I wanted to make sure I understood everyone’s point of view,” Abercrombie said, explaining the delay in signing the package.
The rules codify prohibitions on scuba spearfishing in certain West Hawaii waters, as well as the “white list” of fish aquarium fish collectors may remove within the West Hawaii Regional Fishery Management Area, which spans 147 miles from Upolu to South Point.
The package also introduces size and bag limits for yellow tang, Achilles tang and kole.
Former County Councilman Pete Hoffmann, who worked extensively on fisheries rules at both the county and regional level, said he was happy to see regulations adopted.
“It’s a beginning,” Hoffmann said. “The idea of some regulations are absolutely necessary for the protection of our near-shore marine resources.”
John Buckstead, Democratic Party vice chairman for West Hawaii, said the party has 21 calendar days from Dec. 10 to submit three candidates for Coffman’s seat to the governor, who must choose from that list.
District 5, which includes Kailua-Kona, Kealakekua, Captain Cook, Ocean View and Naalehu, has a population of about 27,000 and is one of the more Republican districts on the island. Coffman won by narrow margins his first two elections, but was resoundingly re-elected for his third.
The District 5 Democratic Party district council has begun soliciting names to be considered to fill the position in time for the Jan., 15 start of the regular legislative session. Potential candidates have until Dec. 23 to submit their applications.
“Denny has set the bar high,” said Buckhead.